Why did I choose watercolour painting as the artistic medium of choice for the Bi in the 2000s™ illustrative series?

Pictured: Artist Anna Frances, wearing Bi in the 2000s™ merch, with the original ‘Where do I fit in my cultural landscape?’ watercolour artwork in the background

For me it was an easy decision to paint with watercolour in the Bi in the 2000s™ illustrative series, for a lot of different reasons. I think for me, I was drawn to watercolour paint in particular because of its fluid and subtle nature, giving the artist infinite ways to explore colour, from its most faint, to its most distinct. I also find the fluid water component of watercolour a very calming and very natural element to work with, and I find the results often very moving, for that very reason. I think every artistic medium has its own qualities, and this is just one of the paints that I love working with.

I’m a self-taught artist, and I am proud of that. I think everyone has the ability to be an artist, and to express themselves through any medium they choose, if they want to. I have nothing against art school, but it was never a path I would have actively gone towards myself, although as a student I did spend a lot of time writing about the culture and representation created by others in my degree. I’ve always had a fascination with the politics of identity, and how this can influence how we view ourselves and others, and I suppose this art series is a continuation of this exploration of identity and representation, focusing on LGBTQ+ themes.

My desire to make art is something that’s always just been there, in the same way that I love to write, I love to sing, and I love to dance.

How do I decide what I’m going to paint?

I come up with the ideas of what I’m going to include in my paintings by using a meditation technique as a visualization tool before I start, to really help me focus on how I’m feeling about a particular topic at the time. Using my imagination and the sketches that I’ve made from what I sense in the meditation as a starting point, I then sketch out the design in pencil on cold-pressed watercolour paper, before adding the colour in watercolour. You can check-out my previous blog post ‘Why did I create the Bi in the 2000s™ illustrative series?’ to read more about why I chose to create art around this LGBTQ+ subject matter in particular.

Why I love painting with watercolour?

Watercolour paint is a very traditional art material that was first sold commercially in the UK in the 1780s, which some argue was introduced in the western world as a non-commercialised method of painting in the 1400s. Before the commercialised pre-mixed version of different paint colours:

‘Artists had to formulate, prepare and grind their own watercolor paint and tended to keep their secret recipes and methods to themselves.’ (watercolorpainting.com)

Watercolour is a versatile medium, and some would argue it’s one of the more difficult paints to work with in some ways, perhaps due to its fluid nature, and the very subtle colour gradients achievable, depending on how much water and paint you combine in your water-paint solution.

What I love about watercolour is this exact subtly – as it’s water-based, you can really see every brush stroke, every subtle movement, the pressure of the tip of the brush when you put it on the page. From very fine detail, to bold strokes of colour, it’s easy to layer thin, ephemeral veils and shadows, or bold swashes of colour, depending on how you’re feeling. The effects you can create with this interplay between body, brush, paint and water are infinite.

You can also watch what happens to the paint once your paint brush has left the page – how the water interacts with the cold-pressed dimples in the watercolour paper, how the paint-pigments swill within the liquid-based solution, and the story that’s left, once the water has evaporated.

You can also add more layers and texture to the paint, by adding more water and/or paint as you go – the process itself ‘documented’ on the page, by seeing subtle water marks – traces of where your body connected to the paper, via the paint brush. In many ways, it does feel like a dance, with many elements involved.

What I love about painting is that it is very much about the material, as much your interpretation of the art you want to create. The material is the material, and it’s up to you to work with the relationship between the colour-pigments and the water, and experiment and honour what can be achieved with its unique properties.

It’s the motion in your body, following your intuition and your heart, that creates the marks left on the page, and even though you’re just painting with your hands, I would argue, expressing yourself through colour is a whole body experience.

It often feels like a balance, between what you imagine the paint on the page to look like, and in reality how the paint settles, expands, mixes and dries on the page, in really beautiful ways. Often I imagine an image to look like what I would consider ‘perfect,’ and actually with the flowing, swirling and liquid nature of watercolour, and the constant mixing of different combinations of colour and water, what you’re getting is an artistic impression of what happened in that moment, in the very moment when your paint brush touched the page. It’s a lasting impression of how you felt, and how you moved, at the time.

The water element in watercolour is just a carrying-component of the colour-pigments in the paint, before it evaporates, and I think that’s part of what makes it amazing. The colour that remains on the page represents the water’s journey as well as your own.

What I’ve found is, the more I work with the paint, the more I can ‘predict’ how certain movements I make are going to be expressed by the paint on the paper. I feel like getting a new set of paints is like meeting a new person in some ways, you’re creating a new dialogue together. Like learning a dance move, or learning a chord on a musical instrument, you’re creating new connections in your brain as to what is possible, and this relationship is always growing, and like being reunited with an old friend, you can always return to certain points later down the line.

Why I’m proud of the watercolour images as digital prints on the Bi in the 2000s™ merchandise

I’m proud of the Bi in the 2000s™ merchandise, because you can actually see a lot of the brush strokes from the original watercolour paintings, digitally printed on the organic cotton products available. I photographed every hand-painted watercolour painting with a DSLR camera, which I then sent as large digital images to the printers. I think much of the detail has been captured and recreated on the t-shirts and tote bags, to the point where they’re almost identical to the original paintings that I created. This is just another example of how the Bi in the 2000s™ merchandise is different to a lot of things out there on the market. It really is a personal item that you’re purchasing, and the images do really carry a lot of meaning.

Often, I have considered whether to ‘go digital’ with my artwork, and create it on a tablet instead, without the space and time it takes to set up the (often messy) paint area, and clear-away afterwards. Personally, I think both methods are valid, but at the moment at least, it’s the physical colour pigments of the paint on the tangible piece of watercolour paper in front of me that really does appeal to me as something I love working with, and always will. I’ll explain some of the pros and cons here:

Unlike digital art work, I think there’s less places to hide with using the traditional watercolour paint and paper approach. Obviously, there are some methods you can use to ‘erase’ some mistakes when painting, but it’s more laborious in some respects, and does sometimes leave a subtle trace, which just wouldn’t happen if you’re working on a digital tablet and pressing ‘undo.’ It’s interesting to compare the two ways of working, because the role of the ‘screen’ just isn’t there as mediator when you’re painting, it is a completely ‘offline’ experience, which personally, I do really value, as a way to literally and metaphorically ‘switch off.’

I adore art in all forms, and I love how it can create and facilitate an authentic way of both connecting to yourself, and connecting to others. I’m proud to be able to present to you what I’ve created with watercolour, in the Bi in the 2000s™ illustrative series.

As I explained at the beginning of this post, painting with watercolour is a very traditional method, and I think that the content of the paintings that I’ve created is timeless.

Find out more:

You can see the full range of the Bi in the 2000s™ merchandise available by clicking ‘Shop’ on the left hand menu of this blog, or visiting anna-frances.com/shop

As an independent artist, every purchase you make really does mean the world.

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